Neil Pau’u, James Empey and Samson Nacua were signed to undrafted free agent contracts Saturday following the conclusion of the NFL draft, giving the trio of BYU alumni an opportunity to compete at the professional level.
“I’m really happy for our guys getting the chance to pursue their goals playing in the NFL,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “It has been an honor to coach them and witness all the contributions they have each made to make our program better. I know they will continue to represent themselves and BYU well in the NFL.”
The undrafted free agency process differs from that of the actual draft, as players who remained unselected following seven draft rounds become eligible to receive offers from NFL teams and sign with the suitor of their choice.
Pau’u signed with the Buffalo Bills following a solid 2021 campaign in which he tied for the team lead among pass-catchers with 46 receptions while logging 526 yards and six touchdowns. Posting 1,484 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns over four years at BYU, Pau’u will set to fight for an opportunity to catch passes from superstar Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
“He’s gone through a lot of different things and he’s faced some adversity and did it with a great attitude,” Sitake said of Pau’u. “To have an obstacle in your way and overcome it, then to go on and help and serve others, I’m really proud of him.”
Empey signed with the Dallas Cowboys following his pre-draft training at Sports Academy at the Star in Frisco, Texas, just right beside the Cowboys’ training facilities. Empey started at center for the Cougars for the past four seasons, anchoring an offensive line that developed into one of the nation’s best as he grew from a Freshman All-American to an NFL prospect.
While Empey racked up a number of accolades over his college career and was considered by various experts as one of the top center prospects in the draft, injuries in 2021 ended his season prematurely and knocked his draft stock, as Empey now looks to reestablish himself as a productive lineman in a Dallas organization built on a strong tradition of excellence in the trenches.
“I believe his future is bright,” BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk said of Empey. “He’s tough and he’s smart. He knows the game inside and out.”
Nacua signed with the Indianapolis Colts to compete for a receiving job alongside former league MVP and new Colts quarterback Matt Ryan. Nacua came to BYU in 2021 as a graduate transfer from Utah, catching 21 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and averaging 15.7 yards per catch. Playing in 58 games over five seasons between BYU and Utah, Nacua recorded 103 receptions for 1,344 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, as well as remaining undefeated in “Holy War” rivalry matchups.
Nacua — the brother of current BYU receiver Puka and New York Jets safety Kai — raised his NFL stock at BYU’s pro day, where he ran an impressive 4.48 40-yard dash with a 32-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot-1 broad jump. Already equipped with NFL measurements and vocal, energetic leadership qualities, Nacua’s pro day showing established the receiver as a high priority on the post-draft free agent market.
“Samson just brought a different attitude and the unique ability to get everyone to feel confident,” Sitake said. “He brought tons of energy, no fear and a lot of happiness. He was able to get a lot of guys to come out of their shells and join in having as much fun as possible.”